Archive for May, 2006

Bar star

Donn’s Depot, according to the June issue of Esquire magazine, is one of the best bars in America (pages 107, 111). There is no other Austin establishment named. Each bar included is marked with pictograms from those denoting “the qualities we care about.” Donn’s earns a “beautiful women” and a “rowdy in a different way” mark. What that second notation means is left unexplained. I can’t really compare Donn’s with 21 or with the bar at El Rancho in Gallup, the only other two on the list where I’ve ever been. But one bar can never really be compared properly with another, and Donn’s is certainly as representative of Austin as 21 is of Manhattan and the El Rancho is of Gallup. Esquire wants to know about your favorite bar. Lala’s? The Cloak Room? Scholz’s? The Driskill lobby? The Saxon? Shoal Creek? Freddie’s?

In the national business news, and not for Dell or WF

Austin has nurtured outfits that have since become national names, but it’s easy to overlook them when they’re new, easy to pay more attention to an Austin rival that later lags behind or even falls by the wayside. The first computer I bought was an Austin-made CompuAdd, when I could have done business with PCs Unlimited, which became Dell. As an alternative food-shopping destination to H-E-B or Handy Andy or a MiniMax, I didn’t go to Whole Foods. Nope; first it was Woody Hills Co-Op and then it was Wheatsville. And it’s Whole Foods that has grown and grown and proceeded to swallow up regional markets of its type all over the country. Austin’s NetSpend made news recently with the Vince Young endorsement, but it’s also been making news in the national business press. Will NetSpend thrive and grow? Or will one of its competitors offering reloadable prepaid debit cards outpace it? I don’t know whether NetSpend has a rival here in Austin, but if the type of cards it offers continues to be attractive, why shouldn’t an Austin-based firm prevail over competitors from elsewhere?

Houston Businesses Try to Copy Austin Formula

One sign of success in any endeavor is imitation, and now Austin is getting its share of imitators. I’m not sure if Austin was the first city to use the “Keep XXXX Weird” slogan, but when we see cities like Louisville, and yes, even my hometown of Erie, Pa. (Update: According to Dennis in the comments below, Erie preceded “Keep Austin Weird” by at least 10 years), coopting the slogan for city promotional campaigns, things are truly getting weird.

It seems like the next thing other cities might be attempting to steal from Austin are its quirky businesses and its laidback vibe. And where better to start than our sister city to the Southeast? Apparently, some Houston business owners have grown so tired of their own strip mall culture that they’ve opened new Austin-like restaurant amalgamations. Barton Springs Grill even takes its design from the Barton Springs pool house:

Barton Springs Grill in northwest Houston, too, is packed with Austin cultural references, in its name, decor, menu and slogan: “We grill, you chill.”

It is named after Austin’s idyllic Barton Springs pool.

The interior resembles a quirky Hill Country lodge and features limestone and cedar, a big beer bottle chandelier and framed albums of Willie Nelson, the Doors and other artists.

The menu is inspired by several Austin eateries. The Austin Queso borrows from Guero’s, the Marga-tini resembles a drink at Trudy’s, and “TV dinners” and veggie dishes pay homage to Threadgill’s.

The patio, with bright metal chairs and pink flamingos, aspires for a Shady Grove feel. Owner Bill Osterhout eventually plans to install a man-made creek outside.

Though you have to admire this kind of inspired copycatting, one might also wonder if the net effect comes off as well as Disneyland’s New Orleans or Las Vegas’ mini-New York.

Not Just “No,” but “Hell No!”

The “Clean Government” charter amendments went down in flames this weekend, with the vast majority of attendant voters casting their voice against Props 1 (76%) and 2 (69%). The Save Our Springs coalition helped push the propositions, and in the process managed to drive a rather large and environmentally-unfriendly wedge through their own eco-progressive vote.

Much has been made of the wording behind the amendments, and rightfully so. No matter how important SOS believes these amendments were, it is extremely difficult to ask casual environmentalists and would-be activists to wade through such documents to find their rallying cry.

And if voters did bother to wade through the amendment text, they may have missed the laudable goals within language that occasionally smacked of petulance more than reform. Fourteen years after passing the SOS ordinance with 64% of the vote, supporters have seen their ideals riddled by state legislation, judicial wrangling, lawsuits, tenuous enforcement, and good old-fashioned dishonesty, and AMD’s decision to break the development stalemate in the recharge zone is the latest and largest assault on what has always been a very personal and bitter struggle for environmental leaders. Unfortunately, calling out one of Austin’s largest and most community-oriented employers in a charter amendment comes across as spiteful, whether or not it is deserved.
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Chronicle Responses to Letters Grow Longer and Longer

The Postmarks section is one of the first things I turn to when reading the Austin Chronicle each week. Unlike letters to the Statesman, which tend to go short and contain reactionary uninformed thought blasts (somewhat like blogs, right?), letters to the Chronicle, though sometimes absurd and eccentric, are often well thought out and even clever. However, as of late, it seems that the Chronicle editorial staff has fallen victim to a “last wordism” in their responses to letters in their Postmarks section, often mocking letter writers who disagreed with their views. In a space where letter writers are supposed to be given the opportunity to express dissenting views to those of the Chronicle, this hectoring can amount to a “We’re right, we’re right, we’re always right” kind of superior dance that discourages others from expressing their views. It’s the Chronicle’s right–it’s their paper and they can do what they want.

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“Let the saw do the work”

That’s what we were taught as kids. Just move the saw back and forth at the proper angle and let the blade take care of the rest. Since the Austin Symphony Band’s Mother’s Day concert at Zilker has just been cancelled, I guess I’ll go back to working on what the wind brought down from the trees, at least until there’s a downpour or it’s too dark to continue. I love my 18-inch No. 318 double-bladed Gilmour Snap-Cut pruning saw, which came from Breed & Co. years ago, perhaps even when it was Everett Hardware. And I love my Snow & Nealley single-bit ax. This was used by a generation before me. A good proportion of the small stuff from the pecan limbs has been stripped by the ax and has now been bagged for pickup. Ten lawn-and-leaf sacks went last week and I hope to have that many to set out again. The limbs themselves I saw into lengths to set out at the curb. Any one of our old metal lawn chairs is just the right height and has exactly the notch needed between the arms and the back to serve as a very good and stable sawbuck. We’re lucky that no trees toppled or snapped. The theory about downed trees and flyaway or snagged limbs is the same as the one for broken teeth: if something broke, it’s because it was unsound in some way, and it’s better to know sooner rather than later. That’s what I’d like to believe.

“Hello; we are not available now”

“Please leave your name and number after the beep.” Uttered by an non-human male-sounding voice, this message that came with our answering machine keeps unwanted callers at bay. Our household used no answering machine at all until not all that long ago, which also works very well to discourage the unwelcome, so long as the receiver stays in its cradle. There was never one of those machines here with the little cassette tape. We skipped that technique and proceeded directly to the more modern, chip-based system. The telephone is also fixed to emit no audible ringing or buzzing sound. A flashing light suffices as notice that a message has been recorded. Warding off incoming nuisance calls is accomplished, reserving the telephone for essential outgoing communication. From what the neighbors say, they’ve been plagued all week, including today, with electioneering calls, some from phone banks and others from robotic calling systems using recorded messages. As a get-out-the-vote reminder, I prefer the private vehicles that crawl along the curb, their doors sporting electioneering posters, with tinny loud-speakers mounted on the roof or even with the driver or a passenger using a bullhorn: “Have you voted yet? The polls close in an hour and a half.” And they do, at seven o’clock, so consider voting if you haven’t, before it’s too late.

Big book bonanza

Under the tent near Disch-Falk Field, the University of Texas Press is at it again, tempting us to fill every tiny space on those bookshelves. This don’t-miss giant sale runs today until six and tomorrow from 10 am until 3 pm. The once-a-year bargains run from great to completely beyond belief. Some years, we entertain out-of-state visitors who come to Texas expressly for this event. My favorite books include those on Tejano culture, plants and wildlife of Texas, Latin America, Texas architects, art, and photography, just a few of the many subjects for which this university press is famed. Here’s a tiny sample: Billy Joe Shaver’s memoirs; Billy Lee Brammer’s famous political novel set in Austin, complete with an LBJ figure; and the book containing the recipe for Chocolate Intemperance, that irresistible dessert star of Austin menus. This is where to find that special present for that discriminating recipient (and don’t forget yourself).

Prop This!

Two days until the election that’ll include a rubber stamp for our current mayor and other things that don’t generally garner too much attention like school board and city council seats. There’s also 7 city charter amendment propositions. 1, 2 and 6 appear to be the most hotly contested. My gut feel would be to vote yes for all of them, but 1 and 2 seem to be getting some opposition from places you wouldn’t expect.

As M.J.L. posted, make sure you’re going to the right polling place. She also linked the League of Women Voters Guide for this election.

Toooooooobin!

tubing01.sized.jpgThe weather today is beautiful, but soon enough the Texas summer heat will be upon us like a large demonic flaming moose in heat, and that has my mind turning to thoughts of toobin! Some may know it as tubing or innertubing, but I personally find much more joy packed into the word “toobin”, and the fun increases with each “o” you add.

Each year, we try to go toooooobin at least once down both the Guadalupe and the Comal. They both have their own character, and I’m not sure which one I actually prefer. I don’t remember which toooobin company we have used on the Comal, but for the Guadalupe, we’ve only ever used Janie’s Riverbank. I don’t really know the differences between all the different companies, but Janie’s just happened to be the place my friend (who introduced me to Tooobin) chose after doing some online research. All our experiences with them have been great, and I would certainly recommend them, but as I’ve said, I never used anyone else, so there’s probably a ton of other great places you could equally go to who would also happily supply you with giant rubber inflated donut.

I always like to get a “bottom tube” which, while it may sound a bit saucy (or maybe I should say, cheeky), is just an innertube with a plastic bottom attached to it. I also find it amusing that a “cooler” tube is simply a bottom tube which costs more money to rent, since it will be the sacred resting place of your cooler full of food and drink and most likely shared by several people. Kind of a cheap trick, in my opinion, but what’s a toooooooooober (not to be confused with a tuber) to do?

Miscellaneous tooobin tip for any toobin noobies: I like to bring along some nylon rope and carabiners (little climbing hook type things that many people use as key chains too) so you can tether your group of friends (and coolers) together. The carabiners help for easy release if you want it. That sounded much dirtier than I meant it. I’d be interested to hear any reader suggestions as to good places to get your tooooooobin on.

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